Local government officials’ confidence in election security high, yet disinformation causes concerns

September 22, 2022
Written By:
Daniel Rivkin
An American flag. Image credit: UnSplash.com

Michigan city and township officials are even more confident in their jurisdiction’s election security and ability to administer an accurate election than they were in 2020, yet there are concerns that disinformation is taking a toll, according to a University of Michigan survey.

The survey found 85% are “very” confident their jurisdiction’s final vote results, voting machines and voter rolls will not be compromised, up significantly from the 63% who were very confident in all three aspects of election security in 2020. Just 2% today are not very or not at all confident about these security issues.

The Michigan Public Policy Survey also showed 78% are very confident they would know whether their voting machines, voter rolls or vote tallies were compromised, up sharply from 58% in 2020.

Despite overwhelming certainty their own elections will be accurate, just over half of local officials statewide believe their own residents are very confident in the accuracy of their community’s elections.

Local leaders also are less confident in other Michigan jurisdictions’ ability to administer accurate elections, though large majorities still express confidence. Fewer than half (40%) are very confident in other jurisdictions’ elections and another 36% are somewhat confident, while 17% are not very or not at all confident.

The report shows that although local leaders of all partisan stripes have similarly high confidence in the accuracy of their own local elections, partisanship clearly plays a role in local leaders’ concerns about other Michigan communities’ elections. Only 31% of local officials who self-identify as Republicans are very confident in other jurisdictions’ elections, compared with 48% of Independents and 64% of Democrats.

At the other end of the scale, nearly a quarter of Republican local leaders are not very confident or not confident at all in other jurisdictions’ election accuracy, compared with 12% of Independents and just 1% of Democrats.

“We are encouraged by these results, that even against the noise created by election deniers and conspiracies, confidence in the accuracy and security of administering the elections remains high,” said Debra Horner, senior program manager at the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at U-M Ford’s School of Public Policy. “However, city and township clerks still face a wide array of challenges. For example, in larger jurisdictions, 60% expect to have problems recruiting enough poll workers for November.”

One survey respondent said that despite public accuracy testing, workshops organized by the clerk’s office and other transparency efforts, some members of the public are still swayed by misinformation.

The post-election day administration processes—including counting absentee ballots, precinct reconciliation and certifying the final tally— have been a point of contention among the public. But as of spring 2022, just 3% of local leaders expect administrative problems with these activities after polls close in November. That is reflected by township clerks, the local officials responsible for running their jurisdictions’ elections, who have even higher confidence in the accuracy of local elections: 94% of clerks are “very confident.”

“Despite the ongoing disinformation campaign to sow doubt about our elections, people should understand that election administration is actually done very well by most local governments, as shown over and over in hundreds of audits across the state,” said Tom Ivacko, executive director of CLOSUP. “There are numerous checks and balances built into the system to find and correct problems so that the certified vote counts accurately reflect the will of the voters.”

The report concludes that Michigan’s local officials overall express confidence in their jurisdictions’ ability to conduct accurate elections. Still, it adds, “whether Michigan residents will feel the same levels of confidence once the election is over remains to be seen.”

The spring 2022 wave of the survey was conducted by CLOSUP between April 4 and June 6, 2022. The survey of all 1,856 general purpose local governments in Michigan is conducted in partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association.